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An adventurous Columbian returns to Alaska

I am fresh off the plane from New Mexico, where I spent 11 months working for Outside magazine in Santa Fe. Outside’s mission is to cover the “people, activities, gear, art and politics of the world outside,” and readers will know the publication examines everything from star navigation in the South Pacific to the historic race to the South Pole in 1911. Well, Columbia might not be the best choice for island hoping or arctic exploration, but mid-Missouri is home to a wide range of athletes (from Olympian shot-putter Christian Cantwell to NASCAR racer Carl Edwards), an abundance of wildlife (from majestic bald eagles to drunken squirrels), and folks who are concerned about whole living and eating well (ask anyone who raises chickens or frequents the farmers’ market).

If you’re active and health-conscious, Columbia is a great place to live. In March alone, the Columbia Track Club has nine races listed on its calendar (I’m headed to Cuivre River State Park on Sunday for the Quivering Quads half marathon). The farmers’ market sets up shop near the ARC on March 24, and the Alpine Shop hosts a variety of outdoorsy classes, such as the Great Canoe and Kayak event (this weekend), and Intro to Backpacking (March 15). There are endless opportunities to learn, explore and challenge yourself outside.

Now that I’m back in town, I can’t wait to wake up early for runs on the MKT trail, support local restaurants and start a garden fueled by my ever-growing compost pile. I also plan to pursue the “outside beat” in print, as the new editor of Inside Columbia, and also online via this new blog. Outside Columbia will explore anything and everything related to the outdoors in mid-Missouri. I’ll do my best to keep you informed about sports, adventure and active-lifestyle events and news. If you have suggestions, please e-mail me at whitney@insidecolumbia.net. Or, join the conversation by commenting on posts. I look forward to hearing from you.

In the meantime, those of you who read Inside Columbia regularly will remember that last February, I wrote a story about Stuart Nelson, a Columbia native who was stranded in the Yukon territory for 13 days in August 2010 after his kayak capsized during a trip down the Little Wind River. Nelson survived those two weeks using only the items on he’d stowed in the pockets of his life vest: two lighters, a signal mirror, a folding knife, a wire saw, flammable Sterno, a space blanket, a tincture of iodine, 30 feet of parachute cord, three fishing lures and a fishing line. “It’s not survival gear if it’s not on your body,” he told me.

I wondered if Nelson had attempted another expedition since his 2010 misadventure and decided to check in with him. "Of course I went on another trip," he says. "In August 2011, I did a trip from Carpenter Lake down the Wind River and stopped at my survival camp location from the prior year." His preparation and gear was similar to past years, although on this journey, he carried a Spot Device (ELT technology) and a few more fishing lures.

Nelson’s sister, Kimberly, is the Food Services Director of the Women & Children’s Hospital in Columbia. Understandably, she was concerned about his most recent adventure, but she also understood that her brother’s “river months” through the Yukon – 20 of them so far – are part of who he is and that he learns from each expedition. “Stuart is sensible, he is not a dare devil, he plans these trips so intelligently,” she says. "I have respect for his going again; I understand that you don’t want to end on a sour note."

Currently, Nelson is participating in the Iditarod –- the 1,000-mile dog sled race across Alaska, from Anchorage to Nome. As the event’s chief veterinarian, he’s "working hard to provide the best possible dog care." Now in his 17th year on the job, he anticipates "having a staff of enthusiastic veterinarians to work with, visiting with the residents of remote villages along the trail, meeting volunteers from many other occupations and regions of the world, interacting with the mushers and, of course, experiencing the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness."

The race began March 3, and is expected to last at least eight days (the record, set by John Barker in 2011, is 8 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds). You can follow the Iditarod online at Iditarod.com. I also recommend watching Iditarod: Toughest Race on Earth, a made-for-TV series about the 2008 race. See how many times you can spot Nelson.

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